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Zeppelin’s 1973 experiments stretch the envelope to uneven (but mostly good) result
on 20 June 2015
‘Houses of the Holy’ was released on 28th March 1973 (the same week as Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’) to a less than uncritically enthusiastic reception, the first Zeppelin album not greeted by universal acclaim.
The reason for this lukewarm reception was that the band refused to do ‘more of the same’ and decided to experiment a bit with different styles, and the dyed-in-the-wool hard rockers didn’t like it.
The result is a mixed bag, with a few really stand-out songs: ‘The Song Remains the Same’ and ‘Dancing Days’ are amongst Zeppelin’s best rockers, and ‘No Quarter’ is an eerie dark mood-piece in a minor key which, though rarely performed onstage, remains one of the band’s most distinctive numbers. ‘Over the Hills & Far Away’, the love song ‘The Rain Song’ and the closer ‘The Ocean’ are also good.
Where the album comes unstuck for some fans is with the musical experiments ‘The Crunge’ and the reggae-rhythm ‘D’yer Mak’er’ which granted, are not among Zeppelin’s best output. But they at least demonstrate the band’s multi-dimensional musical reach, and their refusal to be pigeon-holed.
Some compositions laid down in the 1972 recording sessions (including the title track ‘Houses of the Holy’) didn’t make the final mix, but were re-worked and later released on the 1975 epic ‘Physical Graffiti’ - though in the meantime were performed regularly by the band onstage.
Overall ‘Houses of the Holy’ is an uneven but nevertheless very good album, with some fine songs.
So how about the 2014 `2-CD Deluxe Edition'? Worth buying, or not?
The first disk contains the original album content, the improvement in sound dynamics evident here as throughout this 2014 remastering series. Crisper and cleaner than previous CD releases - none of which have been bad BTW - this mix rivals the original vinyl album for warmth and immediacy.
The material on the second disk is more interesting than that on the recent LZ4 release. Alternate takes of all the original album tracks except `D'yer Mak'er (`Jamaica' - get it? It's a reggae rhythm) feature. Some are `karaoke' versions with no vocals; some have extra instrumentation and overdubs, but all sound genuinely different.
You get the three-gatefold album cover-artwork based closely on the 1973 12" original, but not quite identical: same trick as with the Deluxe release of IV, in that the original rear cover-art is replaced by a purple-psychedelic filtered image of the front. The 16-page booklet is pretty good though, with some nice colour & monochrome shots of the band.
All in all this is the version to buy of you want to add a hard-copy of this album to your Zeppelin collection.